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Ask Dr. Sears: Hold Me!

Q  I have a 2-month-old baby who just won't let me put her down. As long as I hold her she's fine, but I'm worried that she'll never get used to a sitter and I'm going back to work in a month. What can I do?

A It sounds like you have a very discerning baby - what I've dubbed a "high-need baby." In other words, you've been blessed with an above-average baby who needs above-average parenting in order to thrive - which means growing to her optimal intellectual, physical, and emotional potential. Martha and I had two high-need babies, so we know well how they seem to drain whatever energy you have left at the end of a busy day. On the flip side, these babies tend to be bright, energetic, and creative children. Still, they often remain challenging to all of their caregivers. Because high-need babies are super-sensitive to being cared for by anyone but their parents, it's very important that you select your baby's caregivers wisely. After all, she's used to first-class love and attention and won't easily settle for less. Choose a caregiver who is naturally affectionate; finds it easy to connect with your daughter; and is sensitive to the cues of your baby. You can judge this by posing questions such as "What will you do when my baby cries?" and "How will you comfort her?" to potential caregivers. Expect answers such as, "I like to hold babies and I don't believe in letting them 'cry it out.'" These responses will give you a clue as to how sensitive caregivers are and if they regard a baby's cry as her language to express her needs. When you find someone you think will be a good fit, invite her over for at least a week or two, for a couple of hours each day before you return to work. Let your baby see how you relate to the caregiver; if your infant perceives that the caregiver is okay with you, then it's more likely your child will accept her. Even very young babies - and especially high-need babies - will pick up on what their mothers are feeling and are more likely to accept a Mom-approved person.

Here are a couple of techniques to ease the transition for all concerned:

Show and tell. You can help your caregiver by being clear about exactly how you want your baby to be mothered and by telling her what works and what doesn't. For example, if you're not a believer in letting a baby cry it out and you expect your baby's cries to be answered in a nurturing way, let her know. Show her, too, how your baby likes to be held and comforted, and what her favorite toys and songs are.

Raise a sling baby. 'Wear' your baby in a sling-carrier at least three hours a day, carrying her during your walks and while puttering around the house, for a few weeks before you return to work. In this way, your baby comes to associate being carried with being comforted. With Erin, one of our high-need babies, we met the caregiver at the door while wearing Erin in a sling and simply transferred her, still in the sling, into the arms of the caregiver, a transitioning technique that eased Erin's anxiety when we left.

Show your caregiver how to wear your daughter in the sling and tell her that you'd like her to wear your baby at least three hours a day because you've noticed how much happier she is when she's carried. Teaching the art of babywearing makes it likelier, too, that your baby will receive a high degree of touch and interaction while you are away. You can also teach your caregiver how to ease your daughter out of the sling into her bed for a smoother transition to naptime.

By teaching your chosen caregiver these attachment tricks you're ensuring that your baby will get a higher level of care while you're away to meet her higher level of needs.